Jesuit's Nelson Thrives in Many Roles

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

August 31, 2016

DETROIT – Scott Nelson and his football coaches at U-D Jesuit are doing their best to deter specialization.

Nelson, a senior defensive back/receiver, was the sixth man on the U-D team that won the school’s first basketball MHSAA title, in Class A, this past spring. He started in the outfield on the school’s varsity baseball team as a sophomore – although he chose not to play baseball this past season so as to concentrate on football and basketball.

“When I grew up I just played sports,” Nelson said. “I stopped playing hockey to play football.

“I love competing. I love playing sports.”

U-D is an all-male private school located on the city’s northwest side. The academic curriculum is demanding, and most students who attend the Jesuit school choose to go there for that reason without the thought of participating in athletics. Some programs have thrived; the school's basketball, soccer and bowling teams have won MHSAA championships over the last 15 years, while the baseball, tennis and lacrosse teams have finished Finals runners-up. 

It’s different for coach Oscar Olejniczak’s football program. Participation is a must for football coaches. They need players, and lots of them, to conduct practices properly. U-D has not been able to field a junior varsity team the past two seasons. Olejniczak has 44 on varsity, which is a workable number, but it is paramount that the good athletes in the school participate in more than one sport to help fill out the rosters.

“I encourage every one of our players to play two sports,” Olejniczak said. “If they play three sports, no problem, but academics is so tough here that two is all most can handle.

“When you play two sports … it helps them 100 percent. Each sport uses different muscles. It helps with hand-eye coordination. 

 “It’s a big mistake when you play one sport. People get into their ear. I’m sorry to say sometimes it comes from the coaches.”

It’s likely Nelson could have played any one of the three sports in college. In the end he chose football for the simple fact that he likes it more than the others. Nevertheless, he fully intends on playing basketball this winter. And why not? He’ll have a chance to start on a team that’ll once again be one of the state’s best.

“I’m biased,” Nelson said. “Multiple sports give you different skills. Basketball gives me that. You have to be in great shape to play basketball. On the basketball court, I’m not the best player. That helped me mentally. Playing with Cassius (Winston, now at Michigan State), people aren’t concentrating on you. That’s fine. Let me do my role. And that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll do my best. In football it’s different. I am an important part. With my coaches, they know I shouldn’t have a bad game. I put pressure on myself. I know I can make the big plays.”

Defensive coordinator George Harris knew that before Nelson did. Nelson played on the freshmen team before he was moved up to the varsity in time for the 2013 Division 2 playoffs. Not only did he dress, but Nelson was shocked to learn he would start that first playoff game against Warren Woods Tower.

“A senior was late for team prayer service,” Harris said. “We have rules here, and we suspended him for the first quarter. So I asked (Nelson) if he knew the coverages and everything. His eyes got real big.

“His football I.Q. was high for a young kid. He wasn’t afraid of the moment. That year we had a (preseason) 7-on-7 scrimmage and he had six interceptions in one game. I said, oh my goodness. He has a lot more confidence now. He’s more physical. That comes from just growing into his body. I can pull things out of his brain, and we can now talk the same language.”   

The skills the other sports taught him undoubtedly made Nelson a better football player. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he’ll likely play safety in college. Northwestern is the lone school that’s recruiting him to play receiver. The other schools that have offered him a scholarship want him to play defense. Nelson has narrowed his choices down to five: Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Nelson is coming off of what was a breakthrough season. He accounted for 21 touchdowns, which came passing (2), rushing (13), receiving (4) and on kick returns (2).

This season he was not expected to play quarterback, but he was pressed into service, due to injury, in the opener at Detroit Mumford. The Cubs led 2-0 late in the first half and prevailed, 23-14.

As far as his college future, Nelson is uncertain whether he’ll make his decision during the season or after.

There’s no hurry. The Cubs, which made the playoffs last fall losing to eventual Division 2 champion Detroit Martin Luther King 35-24 in a Pre-District, are optimistic that they’ll make a return trip.

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTO: Scott Nelson (10) eludes a pursuing defender. (Photo courtesy of U-D Jesuit/Brent Wilkerson.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)